Column: Progress made but plenty more to do

Things are looking bright for businesses in Hamilton in light of the announcement that the Scottish Government will be revaluing business rates across the country this year.

During my consultation on the future of Hamilton Town Centre carried out with Christina McKelvie MSP last year, one of the biggest factors reported to us that was negatively affecting businesses in our town was business rates.

Business owners told us they were considering or actively planning to move out of the town because business rates were too high – in some cases, paying rates higher than they do in Glasgow.

Many told us they were paying out amounts that did not match the services they received in return, or the footfall to cover the cost.

However the SNP Scottish Government is listening to the problems of these business owners, and has taken action.

The revaluation means a drop in rateable values in Hamilton of more than £3.6 million. This represents a decrease of 24 per cent in non-domestic rates within the Business Improvement District.

The impact of the revaluation, in combination with the increase in the threshold announced for the Small Business Bonus Scheme to £15,000, means that almost 200 of Hamilton’s businesses will be exempt from paying business rates.

This is great news for the businesses who may no longer be crippled by debt, and breaks down barriers for new shops and services to set up in our town centre.

Within Parliament my main role is as the SNP Spokesperson for Equalities, Women and Children, and over the past few weeks I have seen some great successes in these areas.

The most important is the movement of my SNP colleague Eilidh Whiteford’s Private Members Bill for the UK Government to ratify the Istanbul Convention.

The Istanbul Convention is a set of standards written by the Council of Europe to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence. The UK became a signatory to the Convention in 2012, but the UK Government has stalled since then on ratification – allowing 22 other European countries to send out a stronger message against domestic violence than the UK does.

Eilidh’s bill looks set to be the first ever Private Members Bill to make it through the Westminster legislative progress into the statute books, and will mean the UK Government will have to enshrine in law the best piece of violence against women legislation ever written. I am proud to have been able to vote this bill through to the next stage.

This week has been busy with debates, including a celebration of February’s LGBT History Month in which I discussed where I believe the movement for civil rights must go in the future, in order to ensure equality in Scottish and UK society.

I also took part in a debate on the role of fathers in family life, and today (Thursday) there will be a debate to mark International Women’s Day.

I have also been pushing for public support on petitions to Parliament to make some changes. I have been campaigning for domestic abuse victims to be made exempt from the four per cent collection charge on Child Maintenance payments.

It is wholly unfair and potentially dangerous to ask people who have fled domestic violence to engage with their ex-partner to access money they are entitled to – but that is what the UK Government is doing.

If you would like to join me in this campaign, you can sign the petition at: